Daytrip to St. Malo 'The Fall of Die Zitadelle - August 1944'

The imposing fortification overlooking the harbour and marinas of St. Malo has been visited by CIOS members many times in the 1970s and two well publicised and talked about trips in 1982 and 1992. Back then the immense subterranean catacombs were easier to inspect. These days the French authorities are less happy about visitors, health and safety being the reason cited, yet anecdotally in other areas of France one may visit this clearly is the last thing on peoples minds!

However, since the CIOS Jersey’s last visit in 1992, an excellent museum has been opened in some of the L410 and Type 105 bunkers which are interconnected by a substantial tunnel, so technically you can still get into a small part of these fascinating works. There is currently a workstream which has also excavated the entrance to the Type 636 “Leitstand” overlooking the Harbour, sadly, the project has run out of money to allow it to be opened to the public, we await future developments with hope….and maybe a reason to go back?

At the insistence of our photographer (who did not know the irony of his choice) the group posed by chance at Sechsschartentürme 'Z.10', not only did it command an awesome field of fire around much of the Harbour area, but keen readers may spot history repeating itself, please refer to CIOS Review No.21 page 7.....after a 22 year gap we can proudly chart the growth of the tree in the background....and 22 years on we are still doing great trips like this!

On a particularly dull and drizzly Saturday in June a party of 18 CIOS Jersey and Guernsey Members set sail from St. Helier, to be greeted on the “other side” by sunny, warm weather via a very smooth crossing. A welcome “Briefing” was given and the first part of a guided rambled commenced around Le Bas Des Sablons taking in elements of the harbour inner basin defences and establishing some of the background to the story of the fall of “Die Zitadelle” in August 1944.

A opportunity was given to line up some “Then and Now” photographs recounting the surrender and march into captivity of Oberst Andreas Von Aulock (“Festung St. Malo” Kommondant), before the group had its own “march” up the hill to overlook the Tour Solidor for a brief lunch stop. Nice to know that people are happy to bring a packed lunch along these days which allowed time to cram a lot more into the day…thanks to everyone for going with the flow on this aspect.

During the day extracts from the memoirs of Herr Englebert Hoppe kindly obtained by Malcolm Amy, and extracts quoted from the diary of Baron Von Aufsess of FK515 helped to provide a bit of a “Jersey” slant on the ramble. It was interesting to theorise that if Herr Hoppes’ encounter with Oberst Von Aulock in St. Malo had a different outcome then Herr Hoppe would never have made it to Jersey, would never have commanded the M19 position at Stp. Corbiere, would never have returned in 2006 and we would have lost so much richness of perspective via this causal chain! (see CIOS Review No.35 page 51).

The events preceding the fall of 'Die Zitadelle' on 17th August 1944 are recounted for the members inside the courtyard which had such an intense crossfire and initially defeated the US 329th Infantry Regiments assault. The bunker on the right is part of the complex designated 'Z.18' and is an SK Type Machine Gun Stand (Special Construction)

In glorious weather an “onsite” slide presentation inside the courtyard of “Die Zitadelle” followed covering construction of the positions and the events leading to the capitulation of this great bastion of German defence, special reference to the intense crossfire in this courtyard being a pivotal aspect to part of the story. An excellent tour of the “Musee 39/45” with a highly knowledgeable English speaking guide provided by La Ville De St. Malo assisted greatly to develop the story further.

Finally, to literally cram every last minute into the trip as many “Sechsschartentürme” Cupolas and other fixed defence positions were visited as time could allow for. A short stroll back to Gare Maritime and a slightly hot and tired but definitely enthused group set sail for home. Trips like this are what the CIOS can do really well, mainly because everyone loves their hobby and a day off the rock never hurts, if the level of enthusiasm for trips like this remains then there is definitely scope to do a some more, Messers Walker and Isherwood are already planning the next!

Editor’s Note: This article by Neil Walker appears in our 2015 Channel Islands Occupation Review (No. 43)

Simon Ropert